October 16, 2019

Standing tall in the face of breast cancer

Breast cancer does not discriminate — as Kelvin Woods learned firsthand after being diagnosed.

Breast cancer survivor and Kaiser Permanente Northwest patient Kelvin Woods at Portland Fashion Week (photo courtesy of Tim Ward Photography).

Shoulders back. Chin up. Walk straight. Be confident. Smile. Pause there, and there, and there, then exit down the aisle.

Those instructions and reminders kept looping through Kelvin Woods’ thoughts as he walked in his first-ever fashion show in October, as part of Portland Fashion Week, which coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Kelvin was asked to participate in the event to raise awareness that breast cancer can affect people of any age, race, and gender. He and the other male model sported matching black T-shirts and jeans.

Besides instructions on how to model, Kelvin’s mind was filled with a range of emotions and experiences that brought him to this point. He recalled that day in 2014, at 49 years old, when he noticed “sort of a pimple” on his nipple. After a biopsy, Kelvin texted his kids with the news that he had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “How else do you communicate with this generation?” he chuckled.

Strutting and counting blessings

Five years later, while strutting his stuff at the fashion show, Kelvin counted his blessings. He’s thankful that his breast cancer didn’t spread to his lymph nodes. He’s also thankful that the surgical removal of his breast, followed by 8 treatments of chemotherapy over 6 months, eliminated all cancer from his body.

To keep those killer cells at bay, he’s midway through a 10-year regimen of the most-prescribed medicine for certain types of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, a man’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about 1 in 833, and the outlook is excellent, if caught in the early stages.

Kelvin and the other cancer survivor models received runway coaching in preparation for the show. He followed those instructions to the letter — until the third and final pause point when his big, exuberant personality could no longer be restrained.

Without saying a word, he let loose with a huge grin and pumped both fists in the air, igniting the audience to stand and cheer.

“They celebrated victory over cancer. Appreciation of life. Hope. It was an emotional moment for everyone,” Kelvin said.

“For the rest of my life, I’m going to do everything I can to create awareness about breast cancer and the importance of managing your health. This is my calling."

Breast cancer does not discriminate

Participating in the fashion show is just one of the many things Kelvin has done to spread the important message about breast cancer. He wants everyone to know that “breast cancer does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Be proactive and don’t wait for something to go wrong before seeing a doctor.”

His day job is executive assistant to the hospital administrator at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas, Oregon. Evenings and weekends, he morphs into “Doc Rock” and DJs music at a variety of events. He considers his DJ work “a platform to talk about male breast cancer.”

Such was the case when a woman informed Kelvin that she had been trying to get her husband to be proactive about his health, but she couldn’t get through to him. That is, until he heard Kelvin’s powerful story, and saw his doctor for a checkup.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said Kelvin, the married father of 5 children and grandfather to 5. “To be part of this movement is important to me. I always want to help others. We’re all in a big boat together and I’m just another paddle. For the rest of my life, I’m going to do everything I can to create awareness about breast cancer and the importance of managing your health. This is my calling."